the end of thoughtless education

‘”Nietzsche’s famous aphorism is relevant here: ‘He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.’ This applies as much to learning as to living. To put it simply, there is no surer way to bring an end to schooling than for it to have no end.”

Postman describes previously, that our education system does indeed have an end and that end is The God of Economic Utility—though it does not, and has not, served as an adequate enough end for schooling. One cannot be a true learner if he is only taking what he needs to become successful in society. Learning is quite different from what we are doing in our schools today. What we are doing in our schools looks more like training. A learner will aspire to great heights—though will never reach them, while a trainee will reach their goal by getting a job and later, refine their “skills” of moneymaking as the years go by.

So we are still faced with a phantom end in our public education system. It does not just affect those within the education system, but our entire country who has never been taught the true importance of learning. What would it be like to learn for learning’s sake? We would have to agree that learning and knowledge was objectively good and worth doing for our community and for ourselves—to better the world and not just our wallets.

For the purpose of a thought experiment, Postman creates a fable where education takes on an entirely new form.

“And so, the curriculum of the public schools of New York City became known as Operation Survival, and all the children from seventh grade through twelfth grade became part of it. Here are some of the things they were obliged to do:

On Monday morning of every week, 400,000 children had to help clean up their own neighborhoods. They swept the streets, canned the garbage, removed the litter from empty lots, and hosed the dust and graffiti from the pavements and walls. Wednesday mornings were reserved for beautifying the city. Students planted trees and flowers, tended the grass and shrubs, painted subways and other eyesores, and even repaired broken-down public buildings, starting with their own schools.”

He continues on this path discussing the endless services and activities done by students as a vital part of their education and their community. Our schools are nothing like this today. We learn facts that have no relevancy for our lives—only that we need to know them to pass tests and get good grades. The education system is caught in this severe tension of being impersonally objective and uselessly subjective at the same time. We believe that we can decide which subjects are worth teaching our kids—which subjects are most important, but we have no authority to talk about what these facts mean for our own personal lives, our community and our world. When we make learning relevant to our lives—when we make it mean something, it is as if we are wasting precious time that could be better spent “really learning”.

Let me briefly use myself as an example in this discussion. My public education experience did teach me some things that I was not expecting to learn at school—things that shaped entire childhood and years following graduation. My schools taught me that I was average. They taught me that I was unsuccessful at writing and should never pursue writing for any reason. They taught me that I have a terrible memory and therefore, probably have a learning disability. If I wanted to keep up with everyone else, I had to try extremely hard, or just give in and cheat. Postman comments on what it would be like if we no longer had tests in our schools. He said that people probably wouldn’t like it because we would no longer be able to tell the difference between our smart kids and our dumb kids. All sarcasm aside, I am surprised—though more saddened—that the only flaw our government sees in our education system is that we are not higher ranking in comparison to other countries. The only people who benefit are the people who graduate with excellent GPA’s and false confidence will only get you so far.

Though our education system will likely continue on this way for the foreseeable future, it does not mean that our view of education needs to. The importance and beauty of education can be enforced by parents, friends and family. We don’t need to change the whole education system to make a difference, just our own perspectives.

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